Tag Archives: critique group

Cooking Up Ideas

Once a month our critique group meets. We each bring what we are working on – rough drafts of manuscripts, storyboards and illustrations that are baked, half baked or sometimes overbaked. We talk about the work and then we have lunch. We each bring something to contribute to lunch as well; it’s a potluck.

I usually worry a little about the work I am sharing but never about the food.

I’ve been thinking about how to approach writing with the same ease that I approach cooking. I enjoy everything about cooking – planning what to make, chopping, cooking, serving, eating and even washing the dishes.

When I write or paint I love it once I get started. But I sometimes fear that I have a finite number of ideas. When the page is empty I worry that it will stay that way.

I am comfortable cooking because I have been doing it most of my life. Sometimes the bread doesn’t rise perfectly or the soup is too thin or thick. But I know that it will come out better the next time. I keep cooking.

With painting I have a similar comfort and a habit of working. Part of what makes me able to paint good paintings is allowing myself to paint some bad ones. Ideas beget ideas.

Writing is still not routine for me, but making writing as common as cooking could be the key to making ideas flow. As I write more the empty page will feel more like an opportunity and less like an abyss. The empty page could be that little pang of hunger that makes me want to cook.

p.s. Here is an attempt I made a while ago to literally bake an illustration for a book. It doesn’t completely work ¬†yet but maybe the idea will rise again someday. Bon Appetit!

A Place at the Table…


I am honored to be the first to write a post for our group blog, and I have chosen to begin by saying a bit about our group and its history.

This critique group originally grew out of a Children’s Book class taught at the Seattle School of Visual Concepts in 1994. Meg Lippert was also in the group at that point, but Julie Larios left in 2000, and I was then asked to join. Since that time there have been quite a few celebratory events around the table; Julie Paschkis has made it onto the New York Times Best Illustrated Books list a few times, Laura Kvasnosky has won a Geisel Award, and I have received a Caldecott Honor. Meg left us in 2010 to follow other pursuits and we miss her dearly. Julie Larios has rejoined the group and we are moving on.

We meet once a month, taking turns hosting. We start by laying out or reading whatever current project we are working on, and follow with updates on any back-burner items. All items are open for comments and input.

We have an implicit understanding that it’s okay to say we don’t like something as long as we articulate why. After all, one shouldn’t join a critique group expecting to avoid criticism. And, it’s okay to like something too, as long as we articulate why. We have lengthy discussions about writing and picture-making. Then we break for lunch.

To be in a monthly critique group is a good way to discipline yourself to keep your nose to the Kid-Lit grindstone. To be part of a group that knows your strengths and your weaknesses, and that those two categories are often interchangeable, is invaluable. To be working with people whom you admire, respect and trust, is something I am eternally grateful for. The fact that we all are good cooks is just darned good luck.

Here’s to beautiful and satisfying books and food–and sharing them around the table!

–Margaret Chodos-Irvine